May 4, 2023, TORONTO – Ontario research teams investigating new ways to treat cancer are taking the crucial next steps to bring their discoveries to patients thanks to support from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).
OICR announced it is funding five Ontario-based drug discovery projects between $150,000 and $300,000 per project through its Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline (CTIP) initiative. CTIP supports research into promising molecules that could become the next generation of cancer therapeutics.
This year’s cohort of CTIP projects aims to develop treatments for some of the most devastating cancers, including pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and late-stage prostate cancer.
Beyond funding, CTIP’s committee of experts from academia and industry advises research teams on the science and approaches needed to advance their discoveries, and the strategy to attract the partnerships and investments needed to bring a new drug to the clinic.
“Ontario is home to many talented drug discovery researchers, and OICR created CTIP to guide them through the challenges of the drug discovery process,” says OICR President and Scientific Director, Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi. “These exciting new projects have the potential to make a major difference in the lives of people with cancer, and we want to help realize that potential as soon and as impactfully as possible.”
The 2023 CTIP projects include:
Early Validation Projects
- Dr. Fred Dick of Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute is investigating new therapies to treat ovarian cancer more effectively by targeting ‘dormant’ cancer cells. Ovarian cancers are usually treated by chemotherapy, but ovarian cancer cells can survive treatment by entering a period of dormancy and then spreading again once treatment is done. Dick and colleagues have uncovered a process that keeps dormant cells alive and will use OICR support to look for ways to disrupt this survival mechanism.
“By going after ‘dormant’ cancer cells that elude the usual treatment options, we aim to prevent ovarian cancer from returning, and stop it once and for all.” – Dr. Fred Dick
- Dr. Richard Austin and Dr. Bobby Shayegan from McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton are hoping to develop a new drug for prostate cancer that is effective against late-stage disease, when it is usually the hardest to treat. Austin, Shayegan and colleagues have created a synthetic antibody that targets a protein on the surface of prostate cancer cells, which plays a key role in the growth of tumours. After demonstrating promising results of shrinking tumours in mice, they will use CTIP funding to take the next steps toward advancing this potentially first-in-class therapeutic.
“Once prostate cancer spreads, it becomes much more difficult to treat. But we have found an exciting new way to attack prostate cancer cells that could provide new hope to countless men.” – Dr. Richard Austin
Early Accelerator Projects
- Dr. Razqallah Hakem and Dr. Mark Reed of the University Health Network are exploring new ways to treat breast and ovarian cancer patients with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. These mutations can restrain the body from repairing damaged DNA, which makes people more susceptible to developing cancer. Although patients with these mutations initially respond well to current therapeutic strategies, they develop resistance and recurrence of their tumours. Hakem and Reed identified a novel factor essential for cancer cell survival. They will use OICR funding to test about 25,000 molecules with the goal of identifying those that inhibit their novel factor and kill cancer cells.
“Cancer is stubbornly good at resisting treatments, so it’s crucial to keep innovating. The approach we’re exploring could provide transformative new options for people with BRCA-mutant breast and ovarian cancers.” – Dr. Razqallah Hakem
- Dr. Grant Brown of the University of Toronto and Dr. Rima Al-awar of OICR are looking for ways to maximize the effects of gemcitabine, a chemotherapy and one of the few treatments that is effective against pancreatic cancer. Brown and colleagues have found that ‘deactivating’ two genes makes gemcitabine kill pancreatic cancer cells more effectively. With their CTIP award, they will look for chemicals that inhibit the proteins made by these genes in the hopes of finding drugs that can be paired with gemcitabine to more effectively treat one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
“Pancreatic cancer moves quickly, so we need to harness all the tools we have to stop it. Our work aims to take one of the best treatment options for pancreatic cancer to the next level.” – Dr. Grant Brown
- Dr. Michael Olson, Dr. Marc Adler and Dr. Russell Viirre of Toronto Metropolitan University are investigating alternative treatments for ovarian cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Only 20-30 per cent of women survive ovarian cancer when it is diagnosed in the late stages, and treatment options are limited in those stages. But researchers have discovered that disrupting the activity of a particular protein has the potential to kill ovarian cancer cells throughout the body. Thanks to support from OICR, Olson and colleagues will test how tumours respond when the protein is inhibited using three-dimensional ‘patient-derived organoids’ and work to develop new compounds that target the protein.
“Women with advanced ovarian cancer need improved treatment options against this really difficult disease. We hope our unique approach can help deliver an alternative treatment that gives them a better chance of living – and living well.” – Dr. Michael Olson
Including these projects, CTIP has now funded 26 studies since the program launched in 2017.
“The Ontario government is proud to support ground-breaking research that can advance new discoveries and innovation in cancer research,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “The initiatives funded by OICR’s Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline are key to developing new drugs and treatments that have the potential to help patients who are battling cancer lead longer and healthier lives.”
OICR is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute funded by the Government of Ontario. We conduct and enable high-impact translational cancer research to accelerate the development of discoveries for patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. For more information visit http://www.oicr.on.ca.
The views expressed are those of OICR and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Province of Ontario.